It is a common belief that working with your self-critic means that we are supposed to get rid of it. Some methods would actually promote this but it can be a tricky thing to do. One of the reasons is that we often find that the self-critical side of us has purpose and meaning and we harbour a fear of what will happen if we were to rid it completely. In Compassion focused therapy we work with trying to uncover what the function of the self-critic is to us. Understanding the purpose it has, and has had, in our lives is an important step in responding to it with Compassion.
So am I self-critical? Yes! Over the years I've gotten to know my self-criticism pretty well and it has changed tone and shape but it is still there. At times when I'm stressed or tired the little voice will appear in me and judge me and compare me to others, just as it does for everyone else.
What has changed?
I learned an alternative in Compassionate responding that work as a counterbalance to the criticism. I've also found acceptance for the role the critic has had in my life and I have a greater understanding of why it shows up at times. Its protective role in my life is clearer to me now and I have more Compassion to it as a life strategy. One of the most helpful things was to learn to separate the critical voice from myself. That in turn helped me to distinguish between helpful self-correction and less helpful judgement and criticism. When I realised that we need self-correction and that it is "allowed" to make mistakes and then correct them something really clicked with me.
Compassionate self-correction means focusing on the future. "Given that this has happend what change do I want for the future to help me?" "Is there something I need to learn or develop?" I use this a lot in my every day life when things don't turn out the way I want them to. It helps me to move forward instead of getting caught in guilt and shame. Compassionate self-correction also means taking responsibilty for your mistakes or if you've hurt someone. By adopting a compassionate approach it is possible to hold both the other persons hurt and your own hurt withouth it causing a conflict. It allows for me to do so without comparing or judging my hurt as greater than the others.
My colleage helped me with that so beautifully one day when I was upset over an argument I had had with my husband. She asked what my hurt was; what my suffering was, and I told her. Then she asked what I thought my husbands hurt might be and what his suffering was. The questions forced me to move out of my comparing mind and into a more empathic mind and when doing so I lost the will to hold on to my anger. When I could see that he was hurting just as much as me then I was able to look at the conflict from the outside rather than from an angry place. I often come back to these questions now when I work and when I get stuck with different things. When I identify my own hurt and then turn my gaze towards the hurt of others with an self-correcting approach I find I am more likely to actually take ownership rather than get stuck in a shaming and blaming game that we so often get stuck in when we are absorbed by our own emotions.